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Clearwater Rhapsody (2018) 清水謠

for Erhu, Violin and Violoncello and Piano

Program Note

Clearwater Rhapsody was commissioned by 6-Wire (Xiang Gao, Violin; Cathy Yang, Erhu; Mathew Brower, Piano), Ensemble-in-Residence at University of Delaware, USA. The work is premiered on November 3rd, 2018, at University of Delaware, Cathy Yang-erhu, Xiang Gao-violin, Julian Schwarz-violoncello, Bright Sheng-piano. Subsequent performances take place on November 14, 2018, at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong; and on February 16th, 2019, at Zankel Hall of Carnegie Hall, New York City.

The inspiration of the composition has two folds. I have known Xiang Gao for over 23 years, when I first started teaching at University of Michigan, where he was a star student. Over the years, I have been even more impressed by his musical and artistic achievements, not least his attempt to bridge musical cultures from both sides of the Pacific Ocean. I was also captivated by the virtuoso playing of the innovative 6-Wire—the total number of strings of the Chinese erhu and Western violin.

The erhu (literally, two-string fiddle) was originally brought into China from Central Asia through the Silk Road era. Across centuries, not only it has authenticated a distinctive Chinese character, but also a soloistic nature especially when performed with a Western music ensemble. In Clearwater Rhapsody, I try to highlight the difference between the erhu and the piano trio, hoping the timbre and pitch discrepancy would make a strong solidarity of this work.

Besides my appointment at UM, where I am the Leonard Bernstein Distinguished University Professor of Music Composition, since 2010 I have had a visiting position at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, first as the Y. K. Pao Distinguished Visiting Professor of Humanities, then as the Anna Pao and Helmut Sohmen Professor-at-Large, a joint appointment by the university’s Institute for the Advanced Studies and the School of Humanities and Social Science. I have been very touched by the university’s strong commitment and support to provide its students of science and technology with first-rate arts education.

My position at HKUST also afforded me being truly inspirational by the breath-taking view of Hong Kong’s Clearwater Bay from my corner office on top of a hill, where I compose and prepare concerts in late spring and early summer each year. Looking over this part of the Pacific Ocean, I always marveled by its beauty and serenity attained within only a few miles from Hong Kong’s business districts, one of the most exciting metropolises in the world. This contrast and co-existence of opposite characters is very much in my mind when I conceived Clearwater Rhapsody.


《清水謠》受委於六弦樂團(高翔,小提琴;楊悅,二胡;Mathew Brewer,鋼琴),美國Delaware大學駐校演奏團。作品首演於2018年11月3日Delaware 大學,二胡/楊悅,小提琴/高翔,大提琴/-Julian Schwarz,鋼琴/盛宗亮;同年11月14日在香港科技大學亞洲首演,又於2019年2月16日在卡內基大廳的Zankel音樂廳紐約首演。





—Bright Sheng